Blueprints for Learning: Lessons from Fred Rogers
Blog post by Michele Israel based on this edWebinar
At the start of the school year, as teachers map out a year of rigorous student-centered teaching and learning, whom can they turn to for guidance? Why, Fred Rogers, of course.
Yes, the iconic host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood who, for 33 years, invited children into a televised loving and often magical learning landscape. But, while he was a pioneer in using television to connect with and help children, he was also a whole-child maverick, grounded in evidence-based child development.
Rogers was also a “learning scientist,” emphasized Gregg Behr, Executive Director of The Grable Foundation, and Ryan Rydzewski, writer at The Grable Foundation, in a recent edWebinar about Rogers’ contributions to shaping successful learning and teaching.
Fred’s Educational Blueprints
Rogers’ educational legacy was using tools experts now consider essential to children’s success. The Fred Method, as it’s known, is the connection between whole-child frameworks and learning science. The approach calls for recognizing that academic learning and nurturing the best in children must go hand-in-hand for them to become complete human beings.
Rogers applied definitive strategies that educators can use to build learning spaces (he knew that learning happens everywhere!) where every child can thrive.
Curiosity – Teachers should model curiosity to engender curiosity, a critical learning tool. Rogers modeled it through his questions and sharing what he wanted to learn about the world.
“Your listening, your caring, your enthusiasm and your responding to children’s ideas, thoughts and feelings,” Rogers once wrote, “is what encourages children to ask questions and to be imaginative…Even when you don’t know the answer, you’re letting them know that it’s good to wonder and ask.”
Studies prove Rogers correct: Children are inherently curious; their curiosity enables them to ask questions and absorb and retain information.
Creativity – Children are naturally creative. Rogers protected that creativity by doing what children love to do: paint pictures, cut construction paper, build popsicle-stick structures, etc. He invited creative adults to share their skills and craft. Creativity brings joy and fosters imagination, even into adulthood. But only if children avoid learning non-creative behavior, making them less expressive and open to new ideas.
Rogers showed his pleasure for creative activities using basic elements, which Dorothy and Jerome Singer defined in their book, The House of Make-Believe: Children’s Play and the Developing Imagination, as an adult who inspires, encourages and joins in children’s play; a dedicated space for play; unstructured free time; and simple objects that enrich the imagination.
Communication – Thoughtfulness and intention are the core of effective communication with children. Rogers understood that conversing with them requires practice and reflection. Behr and Rydzewski, in their book, When you Wonder, You’re Learning: Mister Rogers’ Enduring Lessons for Raising Creative, Curious, Caring Kids, note that Rogers’ technique centers on deep listening and loving speech (a concept of the Buddhist monk and philosopher Thich Nhat Hanh).
- Deep listening acknowledges and respects others’ feelings. Educators who give space for children’s feelings (sometimes baffling!), without interjecting their assumptions or experiences or deploying “words of wisdom,” make big feelings mentionable and manageable and uncover experiences that might interrupt learning.
- Loving speech encourages, enriches and empowers human relationships. With children, The Fred Rogers Center created the Simple Interactions Tool that can help educators analyze their daily interactions with children to determine whether those interactions convey the support, love and inclusion children need to thrive.
Collaboration – In Rogers’ neighborhood, people worked together in a small civil society where people bridged differences and pursued shared goals. Collaboration was at its core. Educators should consider learning environments where children can collaborate and everyone feels safe, speaks up and is treated equally, regardless of race, gender and background. Learning science demonstrates that psychological safety and mutual respect are what power effective collaboration.
Growth Mindset – Rogers made mistakes all the time for children to see. When he was learning something new, he tried and tried again to improve. The purpose was to demonstrate that the process of learning was as important as the outcomes; mastering skills were as critical as growth. Mistakes are opportunities to get better and then experience the satisfaction of reaching a goal.
Educators want to strive to encourage students to struggle toward improvement as they take on new challenges. They should always avoid using mistakes as a basis for judgment rather than as markers on the road to improvement. The message should be, as Rogers believed, that striving is greater than attaining. Teachers should convey in authentic and trustworthy ways that children are always capable of learning and improving.
Acceptance and Pride – Rogers knew that everyone needs the same thing, “Whether we’re a preschooler or young teen, a graduating college senior or a retired person, we human beings all want to know that we’re acceptable, that our being alive somehow makes a difference in the lives of others. We need to know that we’re worth being proud of.”
Human relationships are critical: Children don’t want to be socially excluded. They want bonds with and to matter to supportive adults. They want adults not to reject their humanity, with all of its joys and flaws, but to promote its potential to enable them to participate and contribute to the world in the future.
Finally, love and goodness were the drivers of Rogers’ impact on children. He once issued a challenge, “Try your best to make goodness attractive.” Because he understood that it’s easier to tear down than build, to fear than love, to criticize than create.
Educators might build into their instructional repertoire Rogers’ favorite number, 143, a code for “I love you.” It will remind them to use Rogers’ blueprints to help children develop their curiosity and creativity and have the freedom to discover their potential.
About the Presenters
Ryan Rydzewski is a writer whose science and education reporting has garnered several awards and fellowships. A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, he taught elementary school in South Louisiana before earning an MFA in nonfiction writing from Chatham University. As a freelancer, his magazine stories focus on everything from schools to space travel to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Born in Erie, Pennsylvania, Ryan lives in Pittsburgh with his wife, Jacqueline.
Gregg Behr is a father, children’s advocate, and director for the Grable Foundation whose work has drawn comparisons to his hero, Fred Rogers. For more than a decade, he has helped lead Remake Learning—a network of educators, scientists, artists, and makers he founded in 2007—to international renown. Formed in Rogers’ real-life neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Remake Learning has turned heads everywhere from Forbes to the World Economic Forum for its efforts to ignite children’s curiosity, encourage creativity, and foster justice and belonging in schools, libraries, museums, and more. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame and also Duke University, Gregg holds honorary degrees from Carlow University and Saint Vincent College. He’s an advisor to the Brookings Institution and the Fred Rogers Center, and has been cited by Barack Obama, Richard Branson, and the Disruptor Foundation as an innovator and thought leader.
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Michele Israel writes about the ideas and best practices that are shared in edWeb’s edWebinars so they can spread innovative and best practices to the education community. Michele owns Michele Israel Consulting, LLC, which serves large and small educational, non-profit, media, corporate, eLearning, and blended learning organizations to bolster products and programs. Her rich career spans over 25 years of successfully developing educational materials and resources, designing and facilitating training, generating communication materials and grant proposals, and assisting in organizational and program development. In addition to lesson plans and other teacher resources, Michele’s portfolio includes published articles covering a range of educational and business topics.